“Wine talks. Everyone knows that. Look around you. Ask the oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast. It talks. It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers, It speaks of great things, splendid plans, tragic loves and terrible betrayals. It screams with laughter. It chuckles softly to itself. It weeps in front of its own reflection. It opens up summers long past and memories best forgotten. Every bottle a whiff of other times, other places. The transformation of base matter into the stuff of dreams. Layman's alchemy. The magic of everyday things”. - JOANNE HARRIS
It seems like just yesterday Matt and I were rising at 4.30am to rinse down picking bins and hustling them into the vineyard, in place for the pickers to fill with the bountiful harvest. Not even the dogs were awake! Roaring down the rows in the tractor whipping off the nets, while the birds were still sleeping and unaware of what had been uncovered. The picking team rocks up. 6.30am. Snips in holsters, ready for action. “Ok guys, we have 2 tonne to pick this morning of Sauvignon Blanc - which is notoriously hard to pick due to its bushy nature. All before it gets blistering hot, which is about midday. Let’s do it!”
The race is on. The Freehand team verse mother nature but we have the pickers on our side. It doesn’t look like it when you glance down the row but by the time we have collected one load of fruit they have the bins full ready for the next. Amazing. Better than scissor hands.
I get the best job, tractor driving! Triple J playing the latest beats and beautiful air con while Matt is going too and fro, picking up the ‘payload’, bobbing up and down like a dinghy on the ocean. Bless. Every bin of fruit that goes to the winery is assessed by the man himself. Removing excess leaf that dared fall in with the harvest, making sure there is no bird peck, making sure the fruit he has worked so hard to grow all year long is of the best possible quality to be made into delicious Freehand wine. Good wine is made from the flavours and characters that are developed and nurtured in the vineyard during the growing season. It is in the winery where we attempt to capture and retain those characters through gentle, minimal intervention winemaking.
By midday grapes are fastened on the Ute and trailer, on their way to Todd and Michelle’s winery in the Porongurups for processing. The grapes are gently separated from the rachis and are transferred directly to an Italian basket press that can press about half a tonne of whole berries at a time. The berries are held in the basket as a metal plate descends from the top with only one thing in mind; to squish. Squish it does! Waiting for the juice to start flowing is like waiting for your favourite music album to be released. The berries that we’ve been tasting and waiting to reach optimum ripeness all season combined into the most flavoursome juice imaginable. Zesty lemons and lime, rich passionfuit and gojiberry flavours jump out in a syrupy sweet mix. All the vivid lime green colour of the first grass that appears in Autumn. Yum. This Sauvignon Blanc is going to turn into amazing wine as we contemplate Freehand’s first SSB (Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc).
Then it’s time to get yeasting! The yeast has the most important job. The yeast cells feed on sugars in the must and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. In new age winemaking there’s slightly more to it than that. Different yeast stains have been isolated based on their ability to enhance certain thiols and characters in the wine. Just like in bread making, the yeast cells need to be rehydrated gently before going into the fermenter. This is one of my favourite tasks. It is my professional opinion yeast do their best ‘multiplying’ to the king of sexy music...Barry White...”can’t get enough of your love babe”. Fermentation kicks off after a day or two and then it’s a matter of getting it to slow down to capture the gentle flavours of white grapes with daily cooling. Like a horse bolting from the stable we have to convince it to ‘chill out’, calm down to a trot.
The reds are a different kettle of fish altogether. Most are picked later in the season when summer’s heat starts to dissipate, allowing us to relax into the process more readily. With all the whites processed already, Red winemaking is therapy for the soul of a winemaker. Once again, the grapes are expertly handpicked in the vineyard and when they arrive at the winery they’re separated from the rachis and gently transferred to concrete fermenters. The fermenters are beautiful, beastly things. Three inches thick, cylindrical, waxed and smooth, they buffer the ferment from hot and cool temperatures, making the ferment run smooth-er. The red making experience is a little more relaxing than the white.
The berries go into the fermenter whole and undergo in part what the textbooks call ‘carbonic maceration’; meaning that individual berries can and will have a mini fermentation inside the intact berry. In some cases the skins break down and ferment as a whole with the juice, others remain right up to pressing.
The lush and vibrant colour of Freehand reds occur by the extraction of tannins and anthocyanins as the grape skins come in contact with the juice during plunging. Due to the production of CO2, the grapes skins are forced to the surface, ousted from the party forming what we call a ‘cap’. The cap is then forced back into the juicy must by hand plunging (see photo). Another delicious task. When you break through the mighty wall of skins the scent of the liquid beneath comes shooting upward assulting the senses with blackberries, plums, raspberries, currants and dark chocolate. The intense sparkle of the deep red and purple hues in the juice and the distant sound of waves crashing on the shore as the trapped CO2 rushes in a desperate escape to reach the outside world.
Once everything is almost through ferment, the red and white wine gets transferred to French oak barrels with some American oak incorporated in the Shiraz line-up. At Freehand we age our reds in barrel for at least two years and whites for up to 8 months. This makes the selection of oak crucial to the quality of the finished wine and there are many elements to take into consideration. Firstly, the oak has tiny pores that allow for evaporation, therefore concentrating and intensifying the fruit flavours. Although the oak can breath, regular topping, (replacing the space created by evaporation with wine), ensures this a protective vessel for ageing wine. The wood itself can come from different forests, in different oak growing regions making each barrels flavours unique. Furthermore the cooperage where the barrel was made have signature styles. The oak will have different levels of ‘toasting’ where they make a fire in the middle of the barrel to season and char the inside! Barrel maturation imparts in the wine oak phenols and tannins and can convey flavours such as caramel, cream, smoke, spice, vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, clove, pencil shavings, and toffee. Freehand takes all of these flavour components, (along with various levels of oak influence depending on barrel age) into account when choosing oak that will best compliment our organic Freehand fruit.
Now vintage is over we have some time to reflect on what has been an amazing winemaking experience. The season was long with hot days and cool nights, perfect for grape growing. We couldn’t believe our luck when the rain held off until after Easter when all the grapes were off the vines. A near perfect finish. The wines that are now maturing in barrel makes all that hard work pay off. The fruit flavours are intense. The wines are balanced in their components of fruit, acid, tannin, and oak vessels, unified into what will be a beautifully crafted, stylistically ‘Freehand’ wine that we are super proud to represent. We hope you all enjoy drinking it as much as we have enjoyed making it!
So stay tuned for the 2014 whites. They will be in bottle and available in Spring, just as it warms up again.. you may be parched and in need of a refreshing Freehand taste sensation explosion!
Cheers - Dani